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Update from ASI’s CTO

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Guest Blog, News About ASI

There are few things more productive than getting together with your peers to brainstorm pressing issues everyone can relate to and learn from, especially when the topics concern new and emerging technology.

That’s why I was so happy to host a CTO Summit in conjunction with ASI’s Chicago show in mid-July. All told, 14 distributors, partners and suppliers – including SanMar, Brighter Promotions, ASB, Facilis, HALO and Safeguard – spent the day discussing technology, operations and customer service. I was very impressed with the high-level professionals who took the time to attend (our group is pictured below).

Just about everyone at the summit shares a keen interest in moving this industry forward, especially when it comes to automating and connecting suppliers and distributors for order processing. At ASI, we know how important it is to everyone in our industry to have the latest, greatest real-time product information available at their fingertips.

For the past two years, we’ve devoted countless hours working directly with the industry’s top suppliers to link their databases directly to ESP. By making quick, vital data sharing and communication available across the entire industry, the end-to-end workflow – from product inputting to price quoting to order processing – will be as straightforward and uncomplicated as possible.

The summit’s agenda (outlined below) covered a wide range of topics. Hopefully we provided something for everyone. If you need more info on anything, don’t hesitate to email me at arafat@asicentral.com:

  • ASI’s State of the Industry
  • ASI Case Study: Benefits and Challenges of the Modern Platform Architecture
  • Right Brain/Left Brain: Keeping Creativity Alive Within User Experience
  • Technology Challenges from the Perspective of the Distributor
  • Big Data: How to Tame It and Harness Its Power for Profit
  • The Perilous and the Profitable: What You Should Know About Outsourcing

A personal highlight for me was hearing from ASI’s chairman, Norman Cohn, one of the chief architects responsible for introducing more advanced technology to our industry, starting with the remarkable ESP database – now over 950,000 products strong, and counting. It’s always fascinating to recall just how fast and far we’ve come since the days of CDs, microfiche and rolodexes – and to imagine the possibilities ahead.

This was our third CTO Summit and I’m sure it’ll continue as an annual event, so if you missed it this year, stay tuned for info on 2016. The goal is to establish a solid list of technologists we can rely on for input and feedback regarding the myriad of opportunities and challenges facing our ever-changing industry.

To that end, I’d like to especially thank the experts from Macrosoft for sharing their expertise with the group.

If you have any questions regarding any topic we covered – or suggestions for future topics or speakers –please let me know. I’m grateful to everyone who attended and hope to see all of you next year as well.

ASI CTO Armughan Rafat


Triumphs, Tears and Tips in Chicago

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

ASI ended its last major show of the 2015 season with fireworks and fanfare in Chicago, with attendance up nearly 3% over 2014, tons of fun at our new networking clubs and a fast-paced keynote by Denver Broncos QB Peyton Manning.

We accomplished so much in Chicago it’s hard to re-cap. In the middle of it all, we celebrated winners like The Magnet Group CEO Bill Korowitz (at right) as Person of the Year and Senator’s Michael Nick as International Person of the Year during the glittering black-tie 2015 Counselor Awards, which featured spectacular fireworks.

Click here for video interviews with the winners, here for videos shown during the event and here for an album of gorgeous photos (right-click to save any pic you wish).

Although I loved all the speeches (hands down, Bill’s was the funniest and, as he warned us, also the longest), I was really touched by Fran Ford, president of Castelli North America, who presented one of the Marvin Spike Lifetime Achievement Awards to ASI’s own Ron Ball (below).

“For the past 30+ years, this man has been there for so many of us, helping us grow our businesses, but somehow the light never shined his way,” Fran said. “We grew and somewhere behind it all, he stood, never wanting to shine his star! I am so honored to introduce my dear friend… one who has always been there for me and so many others.”

There wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Ron went on to thank Fran, the Norman Cohn family and even me. “Thank you for all the support and confidence in me throughout my years of service to ASI and this industry,” Ron said. “This is a great way to end the wonderful career I’ve had at ASI for over 40 years.”

Thank you, Ron.

For more on the awards and for our editorial coverage, visit www.asicentral.com. And, click here to read a positive story on the show in the Chicago Tribune (circulation 455,000), featuring ASI’s Joe Haley and a number of industry products.

A few more words about Manning: He flew to our show, incredibly, just hours after being honored in Los Angeles with another ESPY Award for Best Record-breaking Performance of the past year.

It was a real thrill to meet him, and not just because I’m a Hoosier who remembers when the Baltimore Colts moved to Indianapolis in 1984 after 31 seasons in Maryland (the secret, 600-mile dead-of-night trek is among the most famous sporting moves ever). After struggling for years, the Colts enjoyed their greatest success to date under Manning, the team’s starting quarterback from 1998 to 2011.

So, yes, as an Indiana native, I’m a fan.

Luckily, Manning was a nice guy to boot – unpretentious and way funnier (and taller!) than I expected, going so far as to crack a joke in his best New Orleans drawl about buying a bunch of Papa John franchises just before his home state legalized marijuana: “As a guy who sells pizza in Colorado, I can tell you the business is really good there right now.”

Anyone who might have wondered what a football player could tell a business audience didn’t have to wonder for long. The tips and insight Manning shared during his 30-minute presentation and follow-up Q&A with me (below) were relevant to anyone, whether you own a promo products business or earn millions tossing footballs:

  • “Your personal, professional journey rarely follows a straight line.”
  • “Don’t be stymied by change, be stimulated by it.”
  • “Be a master observer and look for things that aren’t evident to your competitors.”
  • “Invest in a coach that can help you continue to grow…When you stop wanting to be mentored, I think you’re in big trouble.”
  • “The truth is, many NFL football players retire not because of injuries, but because of monotony.”

Traditionally, Chicago is the biggest ad specialty show of the summer – and ASI’s very last big show of the season – neither of which will change. ASI remains committed to putting on a great big show in the city of big shoulders in 2016.

We are, however, introducing major improvements for California and New York with our new Engage hybrid format. Engage combines the best of traditional trade shows, intimate hosted buyer events and roadshows. We’re very excited about its debut.

Don’t forget: Registration for ASI’s 2016 ASI shows (Orlando, January 4-6; Dallas, February 9-11; and Chicago, July 12-14) and all our high-profile keynote presentations will be available in early August at www.asishow.com.

 


Connect, Learn and Marvel at Power Summit Canada

Filed under: News About ASI

Considering that the U.S. and Canada have the largest bilateral trade relationship in the world, dealing over $2 billion in goods and services every day, it was a no-brainer for ASI to host a Canadian version of our popular Power Summit.

The issues at hand are of particular importance to us all. The Canadian marketplace is growing and the U.S. dollar is gaining strength. Canada is now the single largest foreign supplier of energy to the U.S. and the third largest holder of oil reserves after Saudi Arabia and Venezuela. Every trading day, there are millions of jobs and billions of dollars at stake.

Add it all up and it’s clear there’s a lot for business owners on both sides of the border to learn about and profit from.

Luckily, there’s still time to join us at this year’s summit – our third – June 21-23 at the gorgeous Four Seasons resort in Whistler, British Columbia. Picture a quaint European village surrounded by soaring summit glaciers for an idea of the region’s beauty.

We put a lot of effort into selecting a potent mix of speakers and panelists guaranteed to challenge us into new ways of doing business. This year, I’m most excited to hear from Michael Lee, Alibaba.com’s director of global marketing. Alibaba seems to make news every day – from its explosive IPO offering in 2014 to the recent opening of its newest office in Russia.

During our onstage Q&A, Lee will let us in on his global strategies while sharing his thoughts on potential changes to the promotional supply chain. If you’ve got a burning question for me to ask, please post it here as a comment.

There’s more – lots more. Check out the website for details on the venue and a slate of speakers as diverse as Olympic skier John Smart and former British Columbia finance minister Colin Hansen. Topics we’ll tackle over three days include the promos that excite Canucks fans the most, corporate merchandising, Big Data and eco apparel.

The Power Summit Canada is a stylized TED Talks for the promotional products industry – with cold Canadian beer, zip lining and golf to boot, along with exclusive reports, challenging sessions and prime networking opportunities.

For more info or to register, please contact George Murray at (215) 953-3181 or email events@asicentral.com. Click here to register directly.

I’ll see you Up North!

 


Big Fun in the Big Apple

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Members, News About ASI

Shark Tank investor Barbara Corcoran is a pip. I just love her, and so did our audience at the ASI Show® New York. Corcoran, ASI’s keynote speaker, shared a ton of unlikely insider business tips, while dishing out fascinating personal tidbits about her life.

She was raised by incredibly loving, supportive parents in a small New Jersey town, in a house with one bathroom and 10 kids. Growing up, Manhattan loomed right across the Hudson River, as foreign and unattainable as Oz. But by the time she was in her 20s, she was taking the town by storm, eventually building a $5 billion real-estate empire. What a story!

She attributed her success, in part, to her imagination. When she was a kid, “I found I could put a ribbon on a rock and that kids would pay you for that rock.”

Although she’s almost 70, you wouldn’t know it from the way she raced around the show floor after the keynote, taking pictures and checking out the products. She stopped by Showdown Displays (asi/87188), our keynote sponsor, and took a photo with the entire team. And when she was told Showdown didn’t sell direct, always choosing to work with a distributor, one savvy distributor stepped right up and handed her his business card, which she tucked into her purse.

As you can see from the photos, she had a lot of fun at our show, goofing around at the hotdog stand and getting her pic taken at the ASI Promocar. As she says, “Fun is good for business.”

Personality and spirit she has in spades, along with incredible talent. No wonder she’s a success story.

To me, the best part of any show is learning similar stories about our members, finding out how they built their business, who mentored and supported them, and how they handle adversity. In her speech, Corcoran said she always watches new hires to see how soon they recover from failure and whether they indulge in pity parties. To her, “failing well” is a sign of strength.

She also applauded everyone in the audience of nearly 300 for being small-business owners. “It’s a fabulous act of the universe to actually be in business for yourself, having nobody tell you what to do,” Corcoran (@barbaracorcoran) said. “Congratulations for having the guts to run your own business.”

I think everyone enjoyed the keynote – and the two-day New York Show, which attracted 175 exhibitors and nearly 1,600 distributors from 32 states and seven countries. I’m happy to report the show also drew 141 female-owned and 120 minority-owned companies, along with 97 businesses based in New York City. And, 11 companies also chose ASI’s show to host their sales meetings.

We got great feedback from the likes of distributor Brian Dawson, of EmbroidMe.com (asi/384000), who said his company loves holding its regional meeting at the New York show. “It’s a valuable way for us to expose our franchises to the promotional products world,” he said. “We speak with our vendors, look at different opportunities, what’s new and what’s awesome in the market. It’s just a great time to meet and learn more about the business.”

In addition to working hard, we played hard in Manhattan, too, staying out way too late at the Counselor® Hot 25 party, held this year at Dream Downtown, with jaw-dropping views of the city. We celebrated 2015’s hottest product design and best ad awards, products and 10 fastest-growing suppliers and distributors.

Kathy Cheng, president and owner of Toronto-based Redwood Classics Apparel (asi/81627), took the top spot on this year’s Hot List. Click here for Counselor’s 2015 list of the industry’s hottest, most innovative game-changers.

And, for complete coverage of the show, including stories on education, visit www.asicentral.com and www.asishow.com.

Hard to believe, but the last show of the season – Chicago – is just around the corner, July 14-16, featuring a keynote by Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning. If you haven’t already, contact Karen DiTomasso, ASI’s VP of sales, at kditomasso@asicentral.com, about sponsorships or exhibiting.


Congrats to a Winning Team

Filed under: News About ASI

At a time of transition across the publishing spectrum, it’s a vote of real confidence for ASI® magazines to win a record three Jesse H. Neal awards – the B-to-B equivalent of a Pulitzer Prize.

At ASI, we’re proud of consistently producing compelling, exclusive, original content. It’s a commitment we made to our 250,000 print and online readers from the start. Happily, the Neal Award judges concur, honoring Stitches® magazine with two Neals and Wearables® with one. In addition, Stitches, Counselor® and Advantages® magazines were named finalists for seven more Neal awards in a stiff competition that attracts top publications like Architectural Record and Advertising Age.

Like most people, I love winning. It’s great for our team’s confidence and we always enjoy partying together at the ceremony.

But what’s especially gratifying is that the judges recognized ASI’s commitment to a very broad skill set, honoring traditional long-form journalism as well as multi-platform packages with a strong social media component. These days, it’s critical for magazines and websites to interact with their online audience – a skill that comes easily to our writers and editors (especially the ones with a quick wit!).

Stitches senior writer Theresa Hegel, an award-winning journalist from Emmaus, PA, won for overall reporting as well as for her cover story “Can This Shop Be Saved?” Instead of giving readers a typical-but-sufficient story on yet another troubled business, Stitches went way above and beyond and sent Joyce Jagger, aka The Embroidery Coach, to Wisconsin for two days to help an embroidery shop turn itself around. Learning how Jagger whipped this business into shape should appeal to any business looking to improve.

C.J. Mittica, editor of Wearables magazine, took home a plaque in the category of “Best Subject-Related Package” for his story, “The T-shirt That Thinks,” which zeroed in on an industry-specific subject that’s breaking the apparel world wide open. As C.J. wrote: “Smart wearables will radicalize the branding capabilities of apparel. They’ll position information at our instant beckoning. They will literally tell us how we should live. With enough time, the tech will burrow so deeply inside the garments that the category of wearable technology won’t exist anymore. There will only be clothing.”

In less than 10 years, ASI magazines have been honored with over 140 journalism awards and remain the only industry publications to ever win a Neal Award. Our grand total for Neals alone is now nine wins and 17 finalists.

Under Editor-in-Chief Melinda Ligos and Publisher Rich Fairfield, our magazines have become the ones to beat – something the competitor in me enjoys to the hilt.

In the pic above, from left: Advantages Editor Kathy Huston, Melinda Ligos, C.J. Mittica, Theresa Hegel, Stitches Editor Nicole Rollender, Counselor Editor Andy Cohen and Rich Fairfield.


ASI Promocar Hits The Open Road

Filed under: News About ASI

Sometimes, companies need to try a crazy idea and have a little fun. If it works, great. If it doesn’t, at least we get to say we tried something different.

With that in mind, ASI created an art car we dubbed the ASI Promocar – a 2002 Mazda Protégé our employees covered inside and out with an array of colorful promotional products, everything from logoed slinkys and stress balls to keychains and lanyards. Most of the items were generously donated by ASI suppliers.

Our moving billboard is part of a year-long public relations campaign called “Driving Serious Fun,” designed to spread the word about the industry’s creativity and ingenuity. In the past year, we’ve displayed the Promocar at ASI trade shows in Chicago, Orlando and Long Beach, CA. Everywhere we bring it, people gawk, smile, take pictures and ask questions. Yes, we say, it is street legal (anyone can turn their vehicle into an art car as long as you obey a few sensible rules) and no, those things don’t generally fly off, even at 60 mph (we used a lot of glue).

As much fun as it is, the Promocar serves a serious purpose: It opens up a conversation about promotional products and gives us a chance to brag about the low-cost, high-impact items that fuel a $21.5 billion industry to anyone who’ll listen.

Now, we’re giving the Promocar a real road test. Starting March 30, ASI’s PR manager, Dawn Marie, is driving it back to Pennsylvania from California, for a total of about 2,700 miles. From Los Angles, the car will stop in Flagstaff, Arizona; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; Memphis, Tennessee; Asheville, North Carolina; and Floyd, Virginia before ending its trip in Stockton, New Jersey on or around April 8. The car will then return to ASI headquarters in Trevose, Pennsylvania.

Throughout the trip, she’s couchsurfing with locals whenever possible as a tie-in to the freebie concept the promo products industry is based upon.

Anyone who sees the car during its trip and posts a pic to social media with the hashtag #ASIpromocar can score a “Driving Serious Fun” T-shirt. Follow the car on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and on ASI’s website, www.asicentral.com.

Since everyone loves free stuff, of course we brought along giveaways. Hopefully, we’ll motivate end-users to consider advertising with promo products the next time they need to get the word out about something they’re passionate about, whether it’s a store opening, a charity 5K or even an employee wellness program. We’re also letting people sign the inside – on the dashboard, steering wheel, radio, doors and even the ceiling.

The reaction we get from kids is the best. They don’t question anything – they just have a ball touching it and yelling out “Look at the fun car!”

And, at a time when we conduct so much business electronically, it’s wonderful to meet people face-to-face – especially in a car that’s the epitome of ‘mobile’ advertising. Maybe we’ll even inspire a few distributors to create an art car of their own. It’s not only a conversation-starter, it’s literally an advertising vehicle.

Before we started this project, we researched art cars and consulted a number of expert enthusiasts like Costas Schuler, who covered his Mercedes with 10,000 pens, calling it the “Mercedes Pens.” Their advice pretty much came down to this: Use a lot of glue (GE Silicone II works wonders), make sure not to obstruct your sight lines or lights and be as creative as possible.

After gluing like crazy, we splattered the car with some bright colors and even put some Keith Haring swirls on some of the stress balls. We also painted a road on the hood and the roof to go with our “driving” theme.

If the most famous company art car of them all, the Oscar Mayer Wienermobile, collided with a Jackson Pollock painting, it might look something like the ASI Promocar. It’s always a work in progress. Sure, some people don’t get it. And that’s OK, too.

Our little Mazda already has 190,000 miles on it, and it’s a long trip from one end of the country to another. Since this is a low-budget project, if the car does break down along the way, we’ll call AAA and hope for the best. To date, we’ve only lost a few items, mostly because people can’t seem to resist pulling on things to see if they’re really stuck. We also made sure to only use lightweight plastic and foam items so even if something does come off, it can’t do any harm.

So far, Schuler has driven his art car over 270,000 miles – an inspiring number. Wish us luck and keep an eye out for the ASI Promocar. Honk if you love promo products!

Below are suppliers who generously donated items to the ASI Promocar:

  • Aakron Rule Corp., asi/30270
  • All-In-One, asi/34256
  • Ariel Premium Supply, asi/36730
  • Bullet, asi/42424
  • Chulani Promotional Products Inc., asi/45100
  • Digispec, asi/49716
  • Footprints USA, asi/55030
  • Hit Promotional Products, asi/61125
  • IDProductsource, asi/62088
  • Nationwide Promotions LLC, asi/73464
  • Norwood by BIC Graphic, asi/74400
  • Prime Line, asi/79530
  • PromoMatting, asi/35750
  • Zenith Promotions, asi/98980

Inspiration and Motivation at ASI Long Beach

Filed under: ASI Shows, Community, Education, Members, News About ASI

ASI’s Long Beach keynote speaker Jillian Michaels – an internationally known fitness expert who single-handedly built a healthy-living empire – was as down-to-earth as a friendly neighbor. While waiting backstage, she kicked off her high heels and showed our crew pictures of monarch butterfly caterpillars from her Malibu backyard.

She’s only 5-foot-2, but she radiates presence. And, she was so beautiful up close I was nearly mesmerized. Can you tell how much I enjoyed our on stage conversation? Right from the start, she enraptured our audience with her personal story of being an unhappy, overweight teenager who was bullied in school and yet managed to overcome it all, thanks in great part to her family’s support.

“As a kid, I was lucky enough to have two people who really believed in me,” she said. “Having people who support you and who believe in you is really critical.”

Through hard work and determination, along with a strong mentor and helpful clients, Michaels established a huge personal brand and starred in a hit reality TV show. I bet everyone who heard her positive, inspiring message left motivated to make changes in their life and in their business. I know I did.

Our conversation was a highlight of the ASI Show® Long Beach, held Tuesday, March 24, through Thursday, March 26, at the Long Beach Convention Center. Our show attracted 203 exhibitors and 1,643 distributors from 925 companies from 31 states and three countries. I was very happy to hear that the show also attracted 126 women-owned companies and 114 minority-owned companies.

For more on the show, recaps of education classes and to see pics, visit our Facebook page and www.asicentral.com.

We got great feedback from attendees like Rob Cunningham, of Uniflex (asi/92480), who said he really enjoyed the show. “We’ve had a lot of good traffic and great sales conversations with distributors.”

To me, that’s what it’s all about: making connections.

Distributor Bob Lewellen, of Kaeser & Blair (asi/238600), told us his company likes holding meetings in conjunction with ASI shows because they present good opportunities to meet face-to-face. “Our dealers like to come to the show so they can get product ideas and find new suppliers to do business with,” he said. “Plus, all of our dealers attend education – there is always something to be learned. The seminar choices give you a chance to focus on what’s important to you.”

There were lots of opportunities for fun, too, from networking events like dinner at Gladstone’s restaurant, to paddle boarding and beer tasting at our new networking clubs.

Hundreds of people also visited the ASI Promocar, a Mazda Protégé we covered inside and out with hundreds of promotional products donated by ASI suppliers. The Promocar (hashtag #ASIpromocar) is part of an ASI PR campaign called “Driving Serious Fun,” designed to drive attention to $21.5 billion promotional products industry and to spread the word about the industry’s creativity and ingenuity.

After Long Beach, the Promocar sets off on a 2,700-mile journey across 12 states. Make sure to follow the car along the way through pics and blog posts on FacebookTwitter, Instagram and on ASI’s website, www.asicentral.com. The car already has 190,000 miles on it, so wish us luck!


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